How do you set goals, tasks and milestones for a plan?

7 7 May, 2013 Comments

Break down goal into steps - The Right Questions

How do we break down our dream into a manageable plan with goals, tasks and milestones?

Previously under ‘how‘ we have looked at the idea of breaking down a mission into manageable chunks in order to make a plan to achieve a dream.  A mission can be deconstructed into various goals and further divided into smaller tasks until you are looking at the next simple step you need to take.

When it comes to the level of depth we should employ in our plan it is evident that the nearer the activity, the more detail we can ascertain and plan with. Equally, the further away the task, the broader and more flexible the approach should be.

We end up with something of a hierarchy of larger and smaller activities and I tend to use planning terms in this manner:

Mission, Goal, Task, Miletsone, Step - planning with The Right Questions

Here is another example to explore this concept further. Let’s consider that I have a dream of lying on a pristine beach, listening to the waves rolling in, basking in the warm sun and sipping an ice-cold cocktail. This is the vision, the ‘where’. The mission (the what) then becomes to go on vacation for two weeks to enjoy the beautiful environs of the South of France. I want to relax, recharge and enjoy some time away from the hustle and bustle of life in busy London; this is my ‘why’. The ‘how’ involves booking the holiday, the budget and planning the travel.

The travel is a major factor in the success of the holiday and I choose to drive.  The journey then becomes a goal in itself — one that needs to be successful for us to achieve our dream – and therefore it requires further planning.  It is a long drive from London to Marseille and so it makes sense to break down the route into stages. With the aid of a map we could very quickly come up with a plan showing each road as a task and the major cities along the way – London, Paris, Lyons and Marseilles – as the milestones.

Crossing from England to France using the Channel Tunnel could be considered one task but it too can be broken down into several steps such as: purchasing a ticket, passing through passport control and customs, boarding the train, making the crossing and then disembarking.  These are all sub-sets of the activity.

So we see here how in our planning we connect the overall vision and mission through to the small steps we need to make.

Stretch goals

When we are looking at a larger dream and medium to long-term goals it is important that we set ourselves goals that are really going to stretch us.  These goals should take us outside of our comfort zones and force us to learn, to grow and to depend upon others.  In other words there should be a reasonable chance of us failing.

Fear of failure is one of, if not the major factor in not achieving our dreams.  But we should never make a decision out of fear; if we bind ourselves by only contemplating the things we know we can achieve we will stop ourselves from ever doing something really outstanding.  The goals that seem unreachable are the ones that are the most rewarding and life changing.

Challenging goals also inspire others and one story that has inspired me is the story of Jim Lawless. He set the goal (actually the result of a bet) that he would compete as a professional jockey. Given that he was thirty years old and overweight, had only a year to achieve the task and yet had never ridden a horse before, made that a real stretch goal! You can read the whole story, how he achieved his goal along with the lessons he learned, in his excellent book ‘Taming Tigers”.

A stretch goal is the sort of goal that borders on unrealistic. It is generally something that will require some time to achieve, possibly years, and has a large element of risk involved.  It is the sort of thing that you could fail in, but by succeeding you could achieve a significant step change.

Take another example.  You may dream of becoming a best selling author and if so it would makes sense that an obvious goal would be to write a book.  A stretch goal might then be to write a book that is short listed for the Booker prize or becomes a New York Times best seller.

Jim Collins, in his book ‘Good to Great’ describes a stretch goal as a ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal’ or ‘BHAG’ (pronounced ‘bee-hag’).  He postulates that people and companies that set themselves BHAGs are the ones that have the potential to become great.

If you aim high you may miss the mark but even so you will most likely strike higher than you would otherwise have done.  The fact is that if you aim low you then you will hit low.

How Project Plan - The Right QuestionsTasks and Milestones

Once we have a goal we can consider what tasks and milestones will help us achieve our aim.

Let’s look at another example and consider the relatively simple task of building a shed.  Even though it is a straightforward construction it is sensible to break the process down into tasks and milestones.  A task is best defined as a piece of work that has certain duration, whereas a milestone is a point in time that indicates important stages of progression.

Here are some examples:

-Work out what type and size of shed you need

-Select the best shed to suit your purpose

-Purchase the shed

-Shed is delivered

-Prepare the ground

-Erect the walls

-Construct the roof

-Fit the door and windows

-Furnish the shed ready for use

-Start using the shed

In this example the majority of the items listed are tasks; but the shed being delivered and starting to use the shed could be considered as milestones. Note the difference being that a task is something that requires a duration of time to achieve, whereas a milestone is more of ‘a line in the sand’.

To take another simple example, if you are running a 100m race then the task is to cover that 100m in the shortest duration possible; the start and finish lines are the milestones.

The next step

The final constituent part in our planning is the ‘step’.  This is the smallest and yet probably the most crucial part.  Defining the first or next step is important because many jobs and goals are never initiated, as it is too daunting to start, or they stall because the next step is not defined.

There is something of a psychological barrier when getting going.  A clean sheet can lead to a mental block.  To overcome this an artist may give a blank canvas a simple wash of colour that will be painted over, and a writer may type a few lines on an empty page that may later be deleted.  For us we need to make a small step in the right direction to get over the inertia when starting up.

One useful strategy when starting a project is to break down the first task into an easy step that can be completed in about 30 minutes.  If it can be done in 5 minutes even better!  If we cannot do it right now then we plan to do that one step at the beginning of the next day and make sure we set another step for the following day.  As things gain momentum you will find that it is easier to get into the work and complete your tasks, even if they require more time.  The key is often just getting going.

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” Confucius

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Category: How (Goals, Strategy, Planning and Resources), The Right Questions

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  1. […] to be possible to track the progress of completion of the goal. This aspect is related to the ‘how’ interrogative in The Right Questions for every task needs a plan in order to achieve it and it […]

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